“’My Father is working until now,
and I myself am working.’
For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking
all the more to kill him,
because he not only was breaking the Sabbath,
but also was calling God His own Father,
making Himself equal with God”
Even more radical than calling God his own Father is to call God Father of us all. The Jewish leaders leaped to interpret this as “making himself equal,” but, rather, it suggests intimacy with the divine. We forget such intimacy was not part of the Jewish way of thinking. After all, every year, in this very season, in almost every other place we look, we see lovely scenes of the divine, laying in a manger, surrounded by a family, kings, shepherds, and even sheep, cows and donkeys. In this intimate scene, people and animals alike are all lovingly adoring a little baby who represents the divine intimately sleeping among us.
But in the day of that divine child, to consider the divine, God, in terms so intimate, not only as a baby among us, but even as our “Father,” was a radical paradigm, a threatening one, in fact. It was made even more threatening by Jesus’ implied claim to trump them: “You think you have the authority to tell me what God wants of me? No, God is my Father, and I listen directly to Him.”
Understandably, the Jewish leaders saw a great threat in this, especially with Jesus’ growing ministry. They perceived that if he were not stopped, soon everyone would be getting their directions from him, not them. Even worse, they must have wondered what would happen if he were to teach that they could also have God as their own Father? Worst of all, what if his followers also learn to hear God for themselves? What would happen to them? Wouldn’t they lose all their authority, their power, their jobs? This Jesus had better be stopped.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming
and now is when the dead shall hear
the voice of the Son of God;
and those who hear shall live.”
If the Jewish leaders were not already sufficiently incensed, one can barely imagine their ire while listening to His discourse that begins, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (5:19) and ends with the critique, “For if you believed Moses, you would have believed Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (5:47)
In the middle are portions that suggest what may have been their greatest fear: that Jesus’ followers could also learn to hear the voice of God. Consider the statement above in verse 25,” the dead shall hear”: until one hears, one is “dead.” Genuine life, what Jesus terms “eternal life,” only commences upon the hearing, the believing, and the trusting in the Son. Prior to that, one is not alive, but “dead.”
Prior to that moment, the divine is like the lovely image we see in the Nativity: the divine sleeping among us, and within us. When it wakes, we are no longer dead, but alive.
What Jesus says just before this is also revealing: “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (5:24). We think of passing from life to death, but Jesus says the one who hears passes from death to life. This suggests we are born into death and then pass into life.
Once we do, then we, too, can hear the voice of the Father and find authority straight from the Father. It’s a process: “an hour is coming and now is.” The voice begins with hearing the red-printed statements in the Gospels and through the church’s teachings. The more one searches the scriptures, the more clear the voice becomes.
In time, often while reading the scriptures, surprising insight comes through the Holy Spirit. This voice of the Son is growing ever more clear. Then, in prayer, the voice comes through again. Then it comes while one is walking, showering, gardening, cooking. The voice is becoming a friend. It’s the voice I’ve named this blog: “whispers of mystery.”
By the time one consciously perceives that this voice is less about the person Jesus and more about the divine voice, “the voice of the Son of God,” the process has lasted so long, one knows not when the voice actually emerged. Even if one had a significant encounter with the Holy Spirit, the voice emerged, nevertheless, through a process.
At the beginning, when our flesh rules much more than our spirit, external forces are essential to guide us forward. Hence, no matter how much we may critique what I and, I’ve since discovered, others call “Churchianity,” the external force of the Church is a critical ingredient in getting this process moving forward.
The instances when we may be critical of the Church are in those moments when it quits moving the process forward and actually stunts the process: “Don’t go any further. That’s dangerous territory.”
Usually, the Church stunts the process at the same point that the religious leaders tried to stop Jesus: when one claims he can hear the Father for himself. When this occurs, once again, the church leaders can be threatened to lose their authority and power. The Church’s job is to bring us to the point where, though we may choose to continue fellowship and service, we no longer need the Church for our own personal growth. At this moment, some churches rejoice. Others churches do not.
Whether or not we may be participating in a church that rejoices with us, the good news is we are the ones to hear the divine voice and to follow its guidance. Our intimacy can be even deeper than the lovely image of divine within a baby sleeping among us. Instead, it can be of the divine voice awoken within us.